Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most prevalent form of heart arrhythmia, according to the CDC, AFib was listed as the “underlying cause of death” in 26,535 U.S. deaths of the 183,321 total deaths with AFib included on the death certificates in 2019. Untreated AFib is most dangerous when blood clots that can form in the heart cause stroke. People who have Apple Watches and many other smart devices can capture an ECG with an app, but Google’s Fitbit raised the bar this year by introducing passive AFib detection.

Fitbit’s new Irregular Rhythm Notifications feature runs in the background when you wear a compatible Fitbit wristwear device. You can configure the app to alert you when it detects AFib. The app uses a photoplethysmography (PPG) to measure your heart rhythm and body movement when you are sleeping or very still. The app collects and saves the data continuously, When you sync your Fitbit device with the associated smartphone app, the Fitbit algorithm analyzes the collected data to screen for irregularities.

Fitbit built the AFib-detection algorithm using data from a 5-month study in 2020 that gathered data from 455,699 participants. Validated with ECG patch monitors, the Fitbit app correctly detected AFib in 98% of the cases, according a Google news release, Fitbit reported the results of the study at the American Heat Association Scientific Sessions meeting in 2021.

Devices and apps that continuously monitor and then alert wearers about vital signs and health conditions are useful for anyone, but especially for people who may not be adroit at configuring and using devices. The data from a Fitbit wearable isn’t enough to diagnose a health threat on its own, but such devices can prompt wearers to contact healthcare professionals for more thorough diagnosis. As with many diseases and health conditions, the sooner a diagnosed patient with AFib starts treatment, the greater the chances for positive outcomes.